is a self-described “Polish girl from the southside of Chicago.” Growing up, her family spent holidays and Sundays with her grandmother and great-aunts and -uncles, eating traditional foods. Her grandmother Ann’s pierogi, a dish traditional in Eastern and Central Europe, were always a family favorite, specially made for Christmas Eve. “We looked forward to it all year,” Clare recalls. “When I moved to the West Coast, I couldn’t think of having Christmas without pierogi, so I called and asked my grandmother for the recipe. I always light a candle in the kitchen when I’m making them, hoping that her spirit will join me. I think it’s important to keep family food traditions alive, especially ones that come from ‘the old country.’”
Clare and her husband, Dan, own a private chef and catering company, Island Thyme Gourment, on Hawai‘i Island, where they have lived since 2002. When working with clients, they strive to help people understand the cultural significance of Hawai‘i’s foods. Clare is on the board of Slow Food Hawai‘i and a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, Hawai‘i.
What is the story behind this dish?
It’s been around Eastern and Central Europe for centuries. My grandmother’s family immigrated from Poland to Chicago, where she was born, and they brought the recipe with them. We always ate pierogi on Christmas Eve. It was usually made by my grandmother, and my mom would make some of the other traditional foods we would eat on that day. Our family always made the pierogi with mashed potatoes, sauerkraut or sweetened ricotta cheese. Cheese was everyone’s favorite, but now that I’m older, I lean towards the sauerkraut.
How did you become the person who cooks for the family?
I’m actually not the one who cooks at home! My husband, Dan, is a chef, and he does 90% of the cooking. I taught him how to make my grandmother’s pierogi recipe, and he does a great job! My sister, Laura, has adult children and grandchildren, and it’s been a priority to cook healthy food for her family, as well as carry on traditions we grew up with. We recently made pierogi together at her daughter’s home in Houston, with her granddaughter’s help — we had three generations of hands on that dough!
Why do you feel it’s so important to preserve our food traditions?
Great traditional food always has a story to it. My husband and I run a private chef and catering company and work with many visitors. When we feed people poi or taro, I always tell them the Hawaiian creation story before they eat. I think it’s important for people to understand the cultural significance of kalo because it helps them connect to this place and this food. When people know the story behind poi — how it’s the first food local babies eat; how it was a traditional Hawaiian staple food, how it’s meant to be eaten with other foods — they can have a greater connection to the food, culture and place. It becomes more than a wooden bowl of grayish purple substance they see at hotel lu‘au.
Grandma Ann’s Pierogi is our October 2019 Tūtū’s Kitchen dish